Garofalo piles on accent for voice role

Janeane Garofalo is no stranger to voice work. Having enjoyed short-lived stints on animated television series like “King of the Hill” and Comedy Central’s “Freak Show,” she felt ready for the physical demands of her latest role as Colette, a tough-talking French chef in “Ratatouille.” But she wasn’t prepared for the sheer intensity and wondrous vision of Pixar’s animation team.

“I loved ‘The Incredibles,’ and I love this movie,” she said. “I didn’t expect to love it, honestly. I wasn’t very enthusiastic about ‘Cars,’ but I marvel at the level of work that goes into these projects. There is going to come a time when the technology cannot keep up with Pixar’s vision, the creative storytelling and the stunning artistry. It can’t get any better than this. But they probably said that after the invention of the wheel.”

Despite her past experiences as a voice actor, Garofalo viewed “Ratatouille” as a particularly daunting challenge because it required her to speak with a thick French accent. She prepared for the role by studying ordinary conversations between French-speaking men, but she couldn’t mask her uneasiness.

“It was hard not to be embarrassed,” she admits. “I was convinced that I was doing this horrible Dick Van Dyke-meets-Mary Poppins job of it. But voice work is always embarrassing, especially when you’re doing something very emotional. You’re standing there alone in a booth, doing it to dead silence. It’s also embarrassing when you have to make out with a character, and you end up making out with your hand.”

Although Garofalo was eager to work with Pixar, Brad Bird (who also directed “The Incredibles”) and co-star and fellow comedian Patton Oswalt, she admits that “Ratatouille” was a no-brainer for an actress constantly in search of quality work. She also relished the opportunity to play a French heroine during the heyday of Freedom Fries.

“Here’s how I know something is great — when Bill O’Reilly asks for a boycott of it,” she says with a wry grin. “I wanted to do this movie because it was French. I started this project about two and a half years ago, during the height of that inane, anti-intellectual, right-wing French bashing that embarrasses us all. And for what? For saying that the war was a bad idea?

“I was thrilled to be French at the height of the Fox News Channel’s attempts to foster anti-intellectualism in this country, to speak to the Archie Bunker in us all. Beyond that, it was a pragmatic decision. I don’t look right for a lot of mainstream, commercial stuff, and being 42 doesn’t help. There’s only a finite amount of work for a middle-aged, Doc Martens-wearing lady to do. So maybe animation is theway to go.”

‘Ratatouille’ voice actors sound off

“I think anyone can relate to Remy, because he’s got this crazy dream that he needs to follow. There’s always something in life that makes you say, ‘I know this is crazy, but it’s what I have to do.’ It comes naturally to you. It’s something you do that doesn’t feel like work, something you’d do even if you weren’t being paid. It’s something you love. That’s what Remy’s doing. Remy just loves to cook.”

Patton Oswalt (Remy)

“I’m actually an art director, but I read for the part of Linguini when they were doing temporary recordings for the story reels. It’s not uncommon, because a lot of the people at Pixar do scratch work and remain on as the actual character. This is the first time one of us has starred in a movie, but I think that Linguini was modeled after me, at least physically.”

Lou Romano (Linguini)

“Colette has fantastic, shiny, healthy hair, and she rides a Vespa. She’s probably a size 00, and who can’t value that in this culture? I admire that about her. She’s got great, huge eyes, no lines on her face and truly invisible pores, which is quite a feat. But she is fictional, so I have one advantage over her — being alive.”

Janeane Garofalo (Colette)

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